“Where are your house phones?” I used to ask a long time ago. That was before I carried a pager and would search for a pay phone with a wallet full of quarters. Now they are all charming instead of useful.
My friend Bonnie posted a link on Facebook that contained an image of a letter a 90-year-old woman wrote to a neighbor. She asked her if she would be her friend. All of her friends had died, and she was very lonely.
It reminded me of my younger days when I delivered Meals-on-Wheels. So many of my clients lived alone. The ones that seemed the happiest were the ones with pets. They’d greet me at the door if they could, and I’d pet their dog or cat and exchange some pleasantries. I’m sure I may have been the only person they saw that day. It was my first window into the world of the extremely lonely.
There is a loneliness epidemic going on across the world. When I first moved here and had few friends, I felt really lonely. I reached out to a therapist, and I stumbled upon a website about The Loneliness Project. This project collects stories and videos about the lonely people in the world. I watched some of them and became a bit fascinated by the fact that millions of people go for a week at a time without seeing anyone.
I’ve been the most lonely when I’ve relocated to a new area. It takes a long time to get adjusted and create community. Before technology it was even harder to find like-minded people. I was always grateful to my recovery groups because at least that was a place to go where I was always welcome. But I was also very lonely when both of my marriages were failing. And I was significantly lonely from the time I was 16 until I got married at 23.
The research shows that the peak times of loneliness are in the late 20s, mid-50s and 80s and beyond. It’s sort of obvious how older people get left out of the mix, but I was a bit surprised at the loneliness of young people. Even though I experienced it myself, I thought it was because of my addiction issues and my issues around connecting with other people. I wasn’t aware how common this is for the younger generation. And they say it’s gotten worse for today’s youth because social media and technology have change the way people relate. No wonder the suicide rate is soaring.
We don’t talk anymore. When I was loneliest in the past I used to go to coffee shops to meet people. Bookstores were great places to walk around and talk about books. Now, bookstores are almost nonexistent, and coffee shops are filled with people looking at their phones or computers. Rarely does anyone even say hi. And we can blame technology or Millenials or whatever we want, but the fact is it’s us. Tech turns off, it goes onto airplane mode, or it can be silenced. It will not keep you company when you are lonely. But the person next to you can. It’s literally life or death.
Tonight I popped over to The Loneliness Project website because I haven’t been there in awhile. They have a cool interactive visual with stories of loneliness at all ages. It literally provides a window into the causes of loneliness and the struggles people face with it. Loneliness is a higher risk factor for death than obesity. It’s serious. And it steals people’s lives.
Our society is so fractured right now. Politics, rampant addiction, increasing depression and anxiety, the high cost of health care, narcissism and abuse pushes people apart. I know from my many relocations that starting over once loneliness has set in is extremely difficult. And I’m healthy. If I was suffering from depression or a serious health issue, I’m not sure I would ever be able to pull myself out of it.
I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe it’s as easy as saying hello or bringing a treat to a neighbor. We have more people in the world than ever. The last problem we should have is loneliness. But here we are.
What is the loneliest you’ve ever been? How did you get out of it?
My Precision Nutrition program experiment today is to go on a media fast. This program has encouraged me to experiment with lots of things. Some I did. Some I decided I did not want to do. I’m actually getting a little irritated with all the experiments, and I’m an experiment sort of gal. I got up this morning ready to dig in to my tea, my NYT articles and my beloved NPR podcasts. Without any warning, my audio lesson today told me I was going on a media fast. I’m NOT doing that!
I wrestled with the thought of what I would do riding to work in silence. How am I going to sit for my intentionally long morning drinking tea to silence? This is ridiculous. I don’t have to do this. The only thing they allow me to read is fiction or something for work. I actually do have a book that I need to read for work, so I could probably make that happen. But I want to listen to The Daily!!! Surely they would understand there is an impeachment trial going on. I wrestled and fidgeted and squirmed until I realized this was what withdrawal feels like. I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here when I decided to cut out sugar. I’ve been here when I decided to cut out coffee. I mean, if I can’t drink coffee, why can’t I read the New York Times? And, to be honest, for many, many years I didn’t really use media. I don’t have television, so I got used to that almost 20 years ago. I quit reading newspapers and listening to news when my anxiety got so bad that I had no choice. And I have quit social media before. This is a nutrition program! Why do they care about media?
I finally decided I’m not doing it. This is a stupid idea. I know what will happen if I don’t engage with media. That’s a no-brainer. I’m not sure why I have to go through with it. So I make my tea satisfied with my planned rebellion. The kitties and Ashok pile up on the sofa beside me ready for my morning ritual of media and caffeine consumption. I attempt to press the power button on my computer, but I don’t do it. Now I feel guilty. Why can’t I do this? It’s one day for God’s sake.
I decided to sit in silence for about five minutes until I decided otherwise. I did a body scan. I sipped my tea. I listened to the purring of my cats and the soft breathing of my dog. All of a sudden, my dream from last night popped into my mind. I had a camel. I had a boat. And the camel followed me around like a dog. In fact, I really think the camel was Ashok because it had that same sweet, devoted personality. “What if you were a camel,” I asked her. She looked at me quizzically. “We’d have to get you a bigger kennel,” I said.
My boat was the size of a small cruise ship. I must have been rich in this dream. I jumped off my yacht to go to an island in the dream. I swam over and then remembered that I didn’t turn the boat off. I watched it as it drifted out to sea with no one aboard. But then I remembered my camel, and I was happy. In my dream, I was perfectly comfortable letting go of things.
Actually in just 10 minutes life was already sort of interesting. Maybe this experiment could be fun. So I sat for a few more minutes. My tea tasted a little better being the center of my attention. It’s an oolong chai laced with homemade almond milk. It’s quite yummy as a matter of fact. My ankles are a bit sore so I circle them some to loosen them up. It’s so quiet. I can hear the internet router over there dying to get in my head. The heat is kicking on and off. My neighbor’s light is on across the street. I wonder if he is consuming media.
I want to write. Hey, I can write! I’m not consuming media when I write. I can create media. There was nothing said about that. And the fact is I’ve been so busy in my habit of consuming media these days there has been no room for writing in my schedule or in my head. That bubbling desire felt a little odd. So I decide to go for it. And here I am, writing! Now if you comment on social media, I won’t see it today. If you comment here, I’ll check it. That’s not media. That’s human connection.
I’m going for it. It’s time to eat breakfast and get dressed anyway. It went by pretty fast, and work will be nonstop and action-packed as usual. I don’t have time for media anymore during work. Today there will be no inspirational reading, no Donald Trump, no fitness podcasts, no music on the ride to work and no other media distractions whatsoever. I’m sure if there is an emergency I will hear about it, but I won’t read about it or hear it on the news. I’ll find out what happened today tomorrow. I could get bored, but, lately I’ve been saying I’d love to be bored for a few minutes anyway. Be careful what you wish for!
I ran today. I tentatively started running again a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure what started it, but I do remember driving home from work one evening when I felt it. That familiar urge to move faster than I could walk bubbled up inside me. I wanted my breath to be heavy and labored. I wanted to feel the sweet relief of stress falling upon the pavement. There was no way I was going to tamp it back down. It might never come again, but I gave in to that urge.
That run didn’t disappoint and neither did the next one. I even started running a little harder. One morning I got up, and I had the urge to run on the treadmill. I got dressed and headed to the gym. Today the urge hit right when it started to rain. I got dressed and ran anyway. I even ran a little farther and extended my run segments significantly. I felt like myself again. I missed my dog who has run by my side for years, but in truth I was thankful I didn’t have to worry about her. I didn’t time anything. I ran when I wanted and walked when I needed to. I watched the surf and felt the cool fall air on my face.
Many years ago I told a therapist that I thought running made me angry. I’d fume and fuss in my head over all the wrong things that were going on in my life, and I mostly blamed them all on my husband. By the time I got back, I had a headache from all the processing, and I was ready to fight. “Why are you running,” she asked.
“Well, I should,” I said. “What do you mean? It’s good for my health.”
She suggested that maybe I stop running until I wanted to run. I followed her weird advice. Eventually that urge came back, and I started to run on my own. The old anger tape never came back. Running was an oasis and a place to clear my mind. So, this spring when I hated running without Ashok, I gave myself permission to stop running until I wanted to run again. And even today I told myself that I’ll run for as long as I want to, and when I want to stop, I will. There is freedom in the permission to stop.
This morning I gave myself permission to be a slug all day. I was busy yesterday, and I fell into the bed exhausted after a long day of errands. I got the urge to cook a gumbo last night, and gumbo requires a somewhat exhausting amount of shopping and cooking. It was the first gumbo I’d cooked in years. I’d given myself permission to stop doing that, too. So, today I said I was going to be a slug. And about as soon as I decided to do that, I got the urge to clean out my cabinets and wash some clothes. Then I got the urge to run. It’s as if giving myself permission to slack off somehow energized me into doing more than I normally would on a Sunday.
Scenes from some of my runs this week and last….
I used to think that I needed to drive myself. Left to my own devices, I’d never have to desire to do anything. So my inner critic would make these lists of things that I SHOULD do in order to be healthy or acceptable or liked by others. I think that’s where all the anger originated. And they say depression is anger turned inward. So, no wonder I was depressed, irritable and functioning on fumes most of the time. I was angry at my own self for not following the direction of my own inner critic.
After my second divorce, I decided to give myself permission not to fix my life. I didn’t need to start dating again. I didn’t need to move. I didn’t need to take pills or lose weight or get myself back into shape. I just decided to be. I wanted to live one day at a time and listen to my inner wisdom – not my critic – and see what might happen. Besides, I was worn out.
It was this decision that finally brought me out of my depression. It took almost two years, but one day I was walking around the block in Memphis, and I realized I was happy. I was truly happy with my life and who I was. It was shocking. I’d never truly felt happy in my life. I’d felt accomplished. I’d felt like I was following the plan. I’d felt like I was checking all the boxes. But happy? That I had not experienced.
Allowing desire to bubble up instead of trying to make it happen is transformative from the inside out. I’m not happy all the time. I don’t like running all the time. I don’t practice yoga every day or eat what makes me feel good exclusively. But I am getting better at giving myself permission to be where I am. Ironically, cutting myself some slack seems to be the strongest driving force to getting myself back on track.
Where do you need to cut yourself some slack? What would it look like to stop driving yourself and just let yourself be where you are?
On my way to the gym this morning, one of my favorite songs popped up on the radio.
It passed right by my sleepy mind as I rushed to finish a treadmill run and get home in time to wash my hair before work. But it came on again when I turned the key for my short commute. This time I had a chance to dream. I don’t really care if every car has a truck bed or if Cooter’s runs out of Bud Light, but there’s a few things I wish, too.
I wish cancer was only talked about in history books.
I wish women were kinder to other women.
I wish Facebook would return to the old days when it was photos, quotes and cat videos.
I wish that old people were respected more rather than less.
I wish that whoever invented the weekend would have made it three days.
I wish that you could work out in January and not have to do it again until the next year.
I wish that every child would have the kind of childhood where they don’t have to question the love of family.
I wish that money did actually grow on trees.
I wish that retirement was guaranteed and paid vacation was a right.
I wish that ice cream was healthy and cheesecake didn’t make you fat.
I wish love was as uncomplicated in adulthood as it was in high school.
I wish mean people would feel consequences immediately after their meanness.
I wish an apology would actually erase a misstep.
I wish snow would stay pretty and white and everybody got to stay home to play in it.
I wish new cars didn’t come with payments and houses were a dime a dozen.
I wish God worked faster or gave me a head’s up He was on it so I wouldn’t worry.
And I do agree with Riley on one thing. I wish good dogs wouldn’t die gray and old. That just don’t seem fair.
Since I’m wishing, what do you wish?
The last six months have felt normal. I’ve finally built a home, established some bedrock friendships and have a somewhat flexible routine. It’s right on time, too. When I relocate, it takes six months for the newness and excitement to wear off. For six months to a year after that, it’s pretty damn lonely and depressing as I try to build community and endure countless rejections. About the three year mark, I usually feel pretty connected and am starting to be a bit overwhelmed because I have so much going on.
Faces in my Michigan world….
I hate that it takes so long. The only one that was different for me was Memphis. For a combination of reasons and one being that Memphis is just so damn welcoming and soulful, I was rock solid in a group of friends in a year. And, I’m glad I was because I left my husband after a year there, and I really needed the support. I’ve tried to speed up the adjustment to a new location, but the reality is it just takes that long. There is no such thing as speed-baking a cake, and there is no such thing as speeding up a relocation adjustment. It is what it is.
That long winter of year one in Michigan and even last year had some rough days. Loneliness would creep in with a stranglehold on my heart. It would literally take my breath away at times. The fear that life would always be lonely would crescendo and then morph into a profound sense of hopelessness. “This, too, shall pass,” I’d remind myself as I cried myself to sleep. The next morning was almost always better with plans and responsibilities on my plate. If I’m feeling bad, I remind myself that things will change. And, I also remind myself that good things pass, too. There will always be darkness. There will always be light. There will always be change.
This week I had plenty to do and plenty of friends to keep me company. I completed part of a long list of chores for this afternoon, and I prepped my meals for the week. My house is as clean as it can be for the week and all three meals for tomorrow are prepared. I had a long conversation with my friend Alayne who’s in her own relocation adjustment period. I don’t know what life will look like next week or next month, but I know that today was a good day. I sort of wish I could hang onto it another 24 hours just to relish the comfort of a perfectly normal day as a Michigander.
Y’all have a good week now. And if you are feeling lonely, reach out to somebody. They may just need you, too.
The first time I met via video chat with Jamie, one of my trainers in Tennessee, I was distracted by the poster of Dolly Parton to the left of his head in the video frame. “Are you a Dolly fan?” I asked with a laugh. “Fan” is the understatement of the year. Jamie is a devotee of the highest order of Dolly Parton. And, while we all laugh when we first realize the depths of his admiration for this Appalachian icon, at some level we totally understand it. She speaks to us all.
She is cool. She is funny. She is beautiful. Her unnatural appearance screams authenticity in a way we could all only dream of being. She is one of the few songwriters whose songs reach into my chest, grab my heart by the heartstrings and leave me a blubbering mess. Angels listen in envy of her angelic voice. She understands men, but she really, really understands women. She has written about my life, my hurts, my dreams and my deepest fears. Her songs Fancy, Coat of Many Colors and Jolene have been playing in the background of all my hardships. Dolly’s music has reminded me many times that even in my most difficult times I have the strength to walk through it with my head held high, boobs out and with no regrets.
Those iconic breasts, teeny tiny waistline and big, blonde hair at first glance are the male fantasy of the perfect woman. But you can’t listen to her music without understanding that she is a storyteller of the highest order, capturing the strength and power of the female spirit. She leans into male desire but jumps full-fledge boobs first into the essence of female energy. She unashamedly flaunts it, embraces it and uses it to our advantage.
A podcast called Dolly Parton’s America popped up in my podcast feed this morning. In our fractured culture today, she may be the one thing that unites us. Dolly is left, right and center. She courses with both feminine and masculine energy. She is a powerful business woman AND one of the best damn writers and storytellers I’ve ever heard.
If you love Dolly, this would be worth a listen. I learned a lot from the first visit this morning. I’d tell you what I learned, but I think it’s better if you hear it from her own beautiful mouth. Besides I need to go put on my stiffest bra so I can head out Dolly-style this morning – cuz I have to go to work.
The first really chilly weekend is upon us up here in Southwest Michigan, and I’m ready for some warming foods. Last Sunday I stocked up on all the local produce I could find – golden pears, apples, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I love cooking cinnamon-laced fruit compote when it’s cold, sipping on spicy chai tea and cooking spicy and warming soups.
I donned a jacket and took Ashok for a walk after dinner. I got the craving for some homemade chai to take the chill off when I got back. Last winter I purchased the spices from Penzeys and only made it a couple times before summer. I googled a good recipe, pulled out my box of spices and started cooking.
My favorite way to make chai is the traditional Indian way. You boil the tea, spices, sugar and whole milk together on the stove. It is so creamy and delicious that I can’t help but drink it in one day. But it’s too much fat in several cups of whole milk for one day, and I truly don’t do well on that much caffeine. I save that for special occasions. With a concentrate, I can sweeten and add milk and tea later. It’s not quite as addicting, but it’s really good.
So here’s the recipe I used last night. But you adjust the spices however you want, and there are plenty of versions on the internet. The great thing about chai is you can adjust the heat or sweetness by changing up the kind or quantity of spices. Use orange peel for a citrus scent or chili powder for a kick in the butt!
When making tea:
Last night my friend Jill and I saw the play “Tiny Beautiful Things” in a Lincoln Park theater. The play brings to life Cheryl Strayed’s advice column called Dear Sugar. Several years ago on one of the best vacations of my life, I hiked by day off the Blue Ridge Parkway and read Wild by the light of a headlamp by night. Strayed’s story about her hiking odyssey on the Pacific Crest Trail single-handedly inspired me to register for a backpacking class and sparked dreams of a solo hike on one of the great long-distance trails in this country.
Her odyssey was a way to force herself out of her comfort zone, process her mother’s young death and to re-evaluate her own substance abuse and bad choices. Last night’s play was a raw rendition of the book by the same name and provided more context about her greater life and the way she touched others by openly sharing the lessons she had learned. It was familiar to see her struggle with her past on the stage and in her writing as I’ve chosen a similar path with my blog. And it beautifully illustrated the connections people feel when they share openly and honestly to each other about common and maybe not so common human struggles.
I flew to Nashville last Sunday for the beginning of another journey on a new team and in a newly formed organization. I knew it would be an exhausting week for work and probably a helluva lot of fun in one of my favorite cities on the planet. It was all of that. I also didn’t get much sleep, skimped on exercise, drank too much coffee and consumed way too much sugar. Then I met Jill from my Oregon writing workshop in Chicago for some R & R. As I lay down to sleep last night I felt wrung out.
It felt weird after the week I had to be alone. I was around people non-stop since last Sunday. The week felt like a vacation even though it was also a lot of work. The new locale provided a break from the routine. The meeting was a time to think about the future and not be caught up in the chaos of the present. There were trains, planes and automobiles to navigate. There was laughter, rabble-rousing, debate, process-mapping, and even some long talks that lasted until midnight. It was a relief to be home even though it presented like deafening silence.
Monday hangs in the air. I am drinking green tea and plan to get off all other caffeine and sugar today. I need a detox, and I am craving my routine. My Precision Nutrition habit this week is to have lean protein and plant foods at every meal. I bought some beautiful Michigan sweet potatoes and winter squash yesterday. Last night I lulled myself to sleep with a cup of Golden Milk. It feels too warm outside to be craving the spicy warmness of turmeric, ginger and cinnamon, but my body says it’s fall. I’ll add them to a smoothie with sweet potatoes, cottage cheese and almond milk for a sharp nutritional boost this morning. I’m looking for the clean, clear energy boost that comes from healthy foods.
It’s Monday y’all! Make it a good one.
I just wanted to post something today but I don’t really have a topic. I suppose it’s Monday. I’m just trying to get my arms around being the best Sharon I can be today.
I feel anxious this morning for no particular reason. Meditation helped. I’m recommitting to eating slowly and until I’m 80% full. I ate out a lot last week and over the weekend, so I’m looking forward to cooking my own stuff this week. Yesterday, I made roasted Brussels sprouts and winter squash, sprouted mung beans, brown rice and yellow split peas, stewed pears and grapes and multi-grain hot cereal to prep for the week.
Sunday Brunch and acting silly with my pal Randy…..
It’s going to be warm this week. I’ll enjoy it while it’s here. I’ve been keeping up with my goal of 10,000 steps per day. It makes Ashok happy and keeps me moving even if my schedule is overwhelming. I’ve been strength-training a couple times a week. I’d like to go to 3 this week and get back to somewhat daily yoga.
Little Big Town at the Allegan County Fair
I’m really working on staying in the present. Work is a lot right now. It’s challenging in a good way but still challenging. If I’m tired, I go to bed early. If I need exercise, I go for a walk. If I need a lift, I play some country music. If I feel alone, I schedule something with a friend or go to a meeting. If I need a healthy meal or a cup of tea, I take time to do that. If I need to escape, I read. I honestly feel pretty good about my self-care. It’s working.
What’s working for you right now?